WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Maryland baseball coach Rob Vaughn knows his next opponent well.
His team will play Wake Forest, which breezed past George Mason in a 12-0 drubbing to set up a matchup Saturday at 6 p.m. with a trip to the regional final on the line.
Demon Deacons assistant coach Corey Muscara worked at Maryland for four years before departing after the 2020 season. Vaughn still considers Muscara one of his best friends and the two talk often, even about their respective squads.
“I feel like he knows our team inside and out because he and I talk every day about our team,” Vaughn said. “I can probably tell you every pitch in every count and what they’ve done in the pitching lab because [Muscara] has told me. So there’s just familiarity.”
Vaughn and Muscara chatted extensively in batting practice leading up to Maryland’s first game, so much so that Vaughn had to cut his friend off to focus on his own team.
“I’m trying to actually coach my players,” Vaughn recalled joking to Muscara. “Can you please get off the field?”
What’s the state of Maryland’s pitching staff?
Kyle McCoy will not pitch this weekend, Vaughn said after Friday’s win. The left-hander is with the team in Winston-Salem but is not on the active roster.
McCoy last pitched in the Terps’ opening game of the Big Ten tournament. He threw just 15 pitches and was removed before finishing the first inning. His velocity was far below what it typically is in the outing, Vaughn said, which led to his early exit. The left-hander missed the last two weeks of the regular season with forearm tightness.
His absence leaves a hole in a pitching staff that will be tested in a regional format — Maryland could potentially play four games in the next three days. Jason Savacool threw 109 pitches Friday and will be unable to give considerable length the rest of the weekend. The same will presumably go for Nick Dean after his Saturday start.
“If you stay in the winners bracket, you can keep guys on track a little bit. If you get in the other side, it’s survive,” Vaughn said. “You’re not trying to survive games, you’re trying to survive innings.”
The Terps’ bullpen is mostly rested entering Saturday’s contest. David Falco Jr. and Nigel Belgrave are available and Vaughn didn’t rule out Kenny Lippman or Andrew Johnson despite both being used Friday.
Tommy Kane is available to pitch after being sidelined for over a month with a lat strain, Vaughn said. His return gives the coach a left-handed option in the middle innings, although Vaughn said Kane won’t be relied on too heavily whenever he makes his first appearance.
McCoy would have been an option to start a game or provide length in relief. Lippman and Ryan Van Buren, who started the Big Ten tournament championship, are options to fill in as a long reliever or a spot starter in his absence.
Wake Forest earned the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed after a 45-9 regular season. The Demon Deacons tout a Division I-best 2.82 team ERA and hit the tenth most home runs in the country.
They showed both those strengths Friday night. Starter Seth Keener blanked the Patriots for seven innings and eight of Wake Forest’s runs came via the long ball.
“You respect the heck out of what they’ve done this year,” Vaughn said. “Been hands down the most consistent team in college baseball on both sides of the ball.”
The Terps have earned similar admiration from their opponent. Wake Forest coach Tom Walter opted to save ACC Pitcher of the Year Rhett Lowder for Saturday as he looked to slow down one of the country’s top lineups with one of the country’s best hurlers.
“They’re a dynamic offensive club, they’ve got a rested bullpen too,” Walter said. “… Maryland’s a really strong two seed.”
Maryland’s taken down a No. 1 overall seed before. In 2015, the Terps toppled UCLA to advance to their second consecutive super regional. Vaughn, who was an assistant on that team, has experience taking down giants.
“It’s a tall task, [Wake Forest is] the No. 1 team in the country for a reason,” he said.
Andrew Johnson’s emergence
In Kane’s five-week absence, Vaugh turned to Johnson as his go-to left-hander out of the bullpen.
The sophomore ’s validated that trust. He hasn’t surrendered an earned run in his last seven appearances and pitched a hitless ninth inning in Friday’s win. He also sealed Maryland’s Big Ten tournament semifinal victory after coming on with the bases loaded and no outs to protect a four-run lead.
“We tossed him the ball in front of 10,000 crazy Cornhuskers last weekend,” Vaughn said. “… That was a turning point for that kid because last year, he couldn’t have done that. Earlier this year, he couldn’t have done that.”
Johnson, who’s made five career starts, is another option to cover multiple innings later in the weekend. He’s turned into one of Vaughn’s most trusted relievers on a staff full of pitchers who’ve stepped up through five postseason games.
“I can’t say enough about Andrew Johnson and the way he’s come on,” Vaughn said. “… All he’s done is work his tail off. … just can’t tell you how proud I am and how much we trust him in that moment to go get it done.”